I want to talk about laziness, inspired by something I heard on a walk earlier this week as I passed by a woman and her son about aged 8: I heard the boy say ‘…cos I’m an idiot, mum’. The woman replied ‘no, you’re definitely not an idiot but you are lazy and you don’t try hard enough!’. The boy’s shoulders sagged even further as he walked by me. I felt disheartened and angry on his behalf and then reminded myself that we all do our best with the resources we have within; as far as I could see in witnessing such a fleeting interaction, the boy’s mother was trying to help him in the way she knew how. And, it got me pondering, what is really going on when someone is labelling themselves or being judged as ‘lazy’?
Lazy has a pejorative connotation and I’ve long felt inclined to question the truth of a ‘laziness’ accusation because of the negative judgement attached and accompanying assumption that the person should change and stop being lazy. In my limited and anecdotally based experience, lazy is most often applied to children, teens and women, those whose work and ways of being are less valued in our economically driven culture and patriarchal society that prioritises money generation and accumulation over personal well being, relationships and care. The google dictionary defines lazy as ‘unwilling to work or use energy’ and includes synonyms like idle, slothful, inactive, lethargic, languorous, listless, slow, all of which have a less judging quality to my ear than the word lazy itself. For example, referring to the slowness of a sloth as ‘lazy’ is a negative judgement about an animal who moves slowly not because it can’t be bothered or doesn’t care about what needs to be done but because of the nature of his diet and metabolism- sloths are made that way; there is nothing wrong with them! (https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/why-are-sloths-slow-and-six-other-sloth-facts#). Our judging this is one of many ever more obvious symptoms of our culture’s madness, the subject of which is perhaps for another blog…
This all leads me to believe that we are conditioned by culture to make a judgement about someone’s seeming unwillingness to work, idleness, lethargy, slowness etc when we call it ‘lazy’ instead of using those less judging words while also wondering ‘why is the person unwilling to work’ or ‘how do they experience their own supposed idleness’? There could be any number of hidden reasons behind someone’s unwillingness to work including, and not exclusively, ill health, fear, lack of confidence, inner conflict about the nature of the work and whatever it may represent.
After years of working with clients of all ages, I have found that a person’s apparent laziness is often a sign of low self esteem, hidden anxiety, depression or shame and to call someone, including yourself and especially a child, lazy on top will only make matters worse for them and it is unlikely to motivate them to change. It could be more helpful to be curious about what could be behind the behaviour and explore with yourself or the ‘lazy’ person what might be going on for you or them on the inner planes. The next time you catch yourself with this judgment whether it is aimed at yourself or another, try being curious about the motivation behind your judgement or try expressing interest in finding out what may be going on for you or the other person and see what difference that attitude shift can make.